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Group painting classes a booming business in St. John's area

Instructor Emma Dooley guides participants in painting Teal Tree in the Moonlight during a recent Paint Nite class at Shenanigan’s bar in Foxtrap.
Instructor Emma Dooley guides participants in painting Teal Tree in the Moonlight during a recent Paint Nite class at Shenanigan’s bar in Foxtrap.

Tanya Purchase puts her smock over her head, ties it in the back, takes her seat and smiles as she stares at her blank canvas.

“I love this,” said the 45-year-old from St. John’s.

It’s her third time participating in an adult paint class — a social activity that has taken off in the province in the last few years.

On this night, Purchase and her friend are among a smaller-than-usual group of about 15 taking part in a class through Paint Nite at Shenanigan’s bar in Foxtrap.

“I usually go with four or five friends and we go to the restaurant for supper beforehand, might have a couple of drinks and then we sit down to paint. It’s a really nice night out,” she says.

The participants chat, laugh and have a drink before instructor Emma Dooley, using her wireless microphone to be heard, calls the class to order.

With a sample of the completed painting Teal Tree in Moonlight displayed onstage, they begin by reciting a light-hearted oath, in which participants promise not to judge themselves or judge their neighbours, and promise to have fun.

“Welcome to the club,” Dooley says with a smile. “You’re all artists now.”

Step by step, Dooley tells the group which brush to use and which colour, and, while holding her own blank canvas, shows them exactly what to paint, where to paint it on the canvas and how much paint and pressure to use.

With each step, using humour and light-heartedness, she reassures everyone that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and makes her way around the room to look at how everyone is progressing.

“It’s your night and your painting,” she tells them. “You make it how you want it.”

A moment later, she says, “Oh my gosh, that’s gorgeous!” as she stops by Purchase’s station.

Within a few hours, each of the aspiring painters have their own work of art — all similar, but all slightly different.

“Oh my gosh, it’s amazing,” said Purchase, who had never painted freehand before participating in art classes. “You start with a blank canvas and by the end of the night you have a painting you’re so proud of.”

Purchase has her paintings from previous classes hung on her wall at her house, and has painted a few at home, duplicating the ones from class, and given them away as gifts.

“People can’t believe you did it yourself. I surprise myself,” she said, laughing. “It’s a great feeling of accomplishment.”

Purchase already has another class booked for a few weeks.

The Paint Nite company began in 2012 in Boston and operates in 115 cities globally, with an annual revenue of $30 million, according to a recently Magazine article.

However, the oldest and biggest of the North American franchise chains was founded in New Orleans by two women who were looking for a way to escape the post-hurricane Katrina blues, according to a Forbes magazine article. The chain now has 190 locations in 28 states, and expects to open more.

Within the last few years, the activity has spread to this province, with several companies here reaping the benefits.

“It provides an opportunity for people to try something new, socialize with friends and go a little bit outside their comfort zone in a safe environment,” said St. John’s regional franchise owner for St. John’s, Kathleen Powers of Gander, who said classes can also help people who struggle with depression and loneliness.

She said by partnering with local businesses — bars and restaurants — it’s been “a win-win” situation.

Powers — who hopes to expand across the province — said they also work with local charities to hold Paint Nite benefits and fundraisers for various community groups, as well as private events.

• • •

Clay Café in Mount Pearl was one of the first local businesses to offer paint classes in the province.

When it opened in its own building 2 ½ years ago, there was so much interest, classes had waiting lists of up to 80 people, owner Jamie McCabe says.

The business has grown so much, McCabe moved to a much larger building on Topsail Road.

McCabe said when people come to take part in the classes, they are able to take a break from the pressures of everyday life.

“The whole purpose is to feel that connection with others. These days, everybody is so involved in technology. As connected as we can be through technology, there is some part that’s disconnected. We’re sitting across from people and we’re on our phones. We’re not actually having conversations anymore,” said McCabe, who got the idea to start the business after speaking with artists from the United States, where paint classes had become popular.

“So, the fact that you can get out and have a little social time is what we’re lacking. People look forward to that. They need that time.”

McCabe said she purposely keeps the classes of less than 20 so participants can get to know and feel closer to the instructors.

She said it’s been tough competing with other paint class companies, but she noted she offers something unique for participants.

Besides catering to private groups and fundraisers, Clay Cafe also holds parent and child classes, with glow-in-the-dark artwork and theme nights. There’s a separate room for splatter painting, in which participants splatter paint on their canvases for more abstract work. There’s also glass painting, pottery and jewelry-making classes.

With a mix of paintings that include local scenes and other scenery subjects, McCabe also has classes for team building for community groups and corporations.

Unlike other businesses, participants can bring your own alcohol to classes.

“We wanted to keep it like it was a little house party,” McCabe said. “Bring your friends, bring your wine and hang out.”

• • •

Vino Pittura is another local company that offers adult paint classes in the region — one of the first to start such a business here in 2015.

“It caught on right away,” said owner Tina Holden, a single mother, adding that the business helped her bounce back after struggling with medical issues. “It was interesting because I had to explain what social painting was to people. Nobody had heard about it.”

Now, they hold several classes throughout the week at various local businesses, including the Spa and Monastery, Tavola, Bitter’s Pub at MUN campus, Christian’s Pub, the Gypsy Tea Room and Quintana’s, with class sizes ranging from 10 to 60 people.

“It’s so nice to see people getting excited about art,” said Holden, whose instructors include local artists, such as Kelsey Templeman, who shows at Leyten’s Gallery.

The paintings are also usually locally based, she said. They include popular works like Nan’s Quilt, the three sheds in Cavendish, as well as Van Gogh sky over Signal Hill, a piece Holden created last year.

“We like to mix it up — scenic, local or whatever people seem to be interested in,” she said.

Holden, too, would like to expand her business across the province, continuing to work with local artists.

• • •

Stephanie Moyst of Mount Pearl became the licensee in June for East Coast Art Party painting classes for the Gander-to-St. John’s region and has seen the activity become all the rage.

The business also operates out of local businesses, such as Piatto and Coffee Matters, but offers participants a meal as well as wine as part of the experience. They also have trivia night during breaks in their paint classes.

“It’s a great inexpensive option for people who want a night out, but don’t like the downtown scene,” said Moyst, who is also a dance instructor from Mount Pearl.

“You go to a movie, there’s nothing to show for it, or you go downtown, you don’t have anything, except maybe a hangover,” Moyst said, laughing.

“But in a few hours with us, you walk out with something beautiful that you’ve made. It’s a huge sense of pride.”

Travelling to various communities, Moyst is also kept busy with public classes, fundraisers and private events, as well as children’s events. Her classes have between 20 and 100 people.

While it’s a Prince Edward Island-based company that services all Atlantic Canada, she said there are several local paintings for participants to paint, including a highly sought-after iceberg scene.

“A lot of people are really starting to tap into their creative side,” Moyst said. “And that’s great to see.”

Twitter: TelyRosie

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